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iOS 9: Features That Make the iPhone Smarter

Much of the talk surrounding iOS 9 prior to the Worldwide Developers Conference centered around Apple's focus on improving the performance and reliability of existing features. While the iOS 9 preview shown off in the WWDC keynote today (June 8) certainly has its share of under-the-hood enhancements, a few new features will be front and center when the updated OS arrives later this year.

Here are seven of the more noteworthy additions coming to iOS 9.

Proactive Assistant: Your Phone Gets Smarter

Apple gets a lot of things right in the mobile experience, but Google and its Google Now feature easily top what Apple has to offer in the area of context-aware information. Apple is hoping to close the gap a bit with iOS 9 and its Proactive assistant features. The goal, as outlined by Apple senior vice president of software engineering Craig Federighi, is to let your phone learn about you without compromising your privacy.

The Proactive Assitant feature in iOS 9 will recognize that you tend to go running at a set time in the morning; when you do, it will offer up a music playlist on your phone's lock screen to accompany your run. When a call comes in with a number you don't recognize, the Proactive Assistant feature will scan your email to bring up guesses as to who the call is coming from?

If that sounds a little intrusive, Federighi insists that the Proactive feature won't intrude on your privacy. Nearly all of the information remains on your phone, and for instances that require looking up other information -- traffic on your daily commute, for example -- your information is kept anonymous and not sold to third parties.

iOS 9's search screen highlights contacts and apps that the Proactive assistant thinks you might want to access.

iOS 9's search screen highlights contacts and apps that the Proactive assistant thinks you might want to access.

Search functionality, summoned by a downward swipe in the current version of iOS, will be accessible with a swipe to the left in iOS 9. When you go to the Search screen, Proactive will suggest people you might want to contact or apps you might to launch based on the time of day or where you are. It will also notify you of nearby locations -- coffee shops or breakfast places if it's the morning, for example -- as well as current headlines.

"These kinds of intelligence features really make a huge difference in your experience with iOS," Federighi said.

The demos definitely suggest a more context-aware iPhone or iPad. But with Google adding a Tap to Now feature in the next version of Android which summons up contextualized information like movie reviews and reminders when you press on your phone's screen, Apple may still have work to do before iOS 9 even launches.

Siri Gets Smarter, Too

A more intelligent mobile device requires improvements to Siri, which not only adapts an Apple Watch-inspired look but also will be able to do more in iOS 9. You can now ask Siri to bring up photos from specific places and events -- photos from your vacation in Kauai, say. Apple boosted Siri's reminder-based capabilities as well. You can now ask Siri to remind you to look at specific websites, messages, and emails at a later date, and the digital assistant will link back to what you were looking at when you set the reminder.

I've found Siri to be a source of frustration in previous versions of iOS. Apple may boast that its reduced Siri's word error rate by 40 percent and that the assistant's responses are faster than ever, but most of my requests seem to result in Siri serving up web links. If iOS 9 truly helps Siri understand me a little better and provide context-based results, than that's a major step toward fulfilling the promise of Apple's digital assistant.

Maps Finally Gets Public Transit

Apple launched its own mapping app in iOS 6, and it's fair to say that the effort badly missed the mark. The ensuing three years have only seen incremental updates to iOS's Maps app, mostly aimed at correcting the mistakes of the past. iOS 9 will mark Apple's first major overhaul to its mapping tool since that misstep, with the focus this time on adding public transit information.

iOS 9's Maps adds public transit info to route planning.

iOS 9's Maps adds public transit info to route planning.

Specifically, the new version of Maps will include multimodal routing that not only includes different public transit times and routes but also builds in walking times. Apple says it put extra effort into getting the details this time out, such as physically mapping out large public transit stations and depots -- such as the Columbus Circle station in New York's subway system -- so that walk times include the time it takes to get from one train platform to the next.

MORE: What Apple Announced at WWDC

The transit feature in Maps will initially support six U.S. cities as well as Toronto, London, Berlin and Mexico City. It will also support many more cities in China, just another reminder of how important that country has become to Apple's business.

News App: Flipboard Be Damned

iOS updates occasionally bring new Apple-built apps, which grab a permanent place on your iOS device whether you want them there or not. Apple is counting on you getting more value out of iOS 9's News app than you might with hide-them-in-a-folder-and-forget-about-them offerings like Stocks and Tips.

News delivers specialized content from media companies, with interactive features, embedded photos and videos and other bells and whistles aimed at delivering a customized, feature-rich news reader. You'll be able to subscribe to feeds from specific publications as well as curated topics. You can be forgiven if you spot some similarities between iOS 9's News and the personalized news magazine app Flipboard.

An article on Albert Einstein tailor-made for iOS 9's News app

An article on Albert Einstein tailor-made for iOS 9's News app

Apple announced it's working with the New York Times, ESPN, and 17 magazines from Conde Nast to provide customized content for its News app, though you'll abe able to add other sources to your feed, even if they won't look as polished as Apple's partners. The challenge for Apple, though, is that it's hardly the first company to try and get publishers to adapt a customized news format.

Besides Flipboard, Facebook is currently testing a program where the likes of the New York Times, Buzzfeed and National Geographic are posting articles directly to the social networking site. How many specialized publishing platforms will content providers be willing to support? And will readers wind up using them anyway?

Apple Pay Expands

Apple expects its Apple Pay mobile payment system to be supported in 1 million locations by July. Apple Pay is also expanding to the U.K., where it will be supported in 250,000 locations -- more than the number of places that supported Apple Pay in the U.S. when the service launched last year.

More important than expanding the reach of Apple Pay, though, Apple is also expanding the types of cards it supports. Store credit and debit card support is coming to Apple Pay, as are loyalty cards. Walk into a Dunkin Donuts, for example, and your loyalty card for that store will automatically surface on your iPhone.

Expanded features mean that the Passbook app that holds many of those loyalty cards will get a new name. In iOS 9, Passbook becomes Wallet, part of Apple's stated goal of replacing your physical wallet with a digital one.

The iPad Starts to Multitask

Craig Federighi shows an iPad with apps running side-by-side.

Craig Federighi shows an iPad with apps running side-by-side.

Perhaps the most enthusiastic iOS users after today's iOS 9 preview should be iPad owners. Apple will introduce a number of multitasking features in the next version of its mobile OS aimed specifically at tablet users. Specifically, iPad users will be able to run two apps side by side at once -- "multi-app, multitouch," Federighi said -- and a new app switcher will provide full-screen previews of apps, fanning out like a carousel. (That app switcher enhancement will be available to iPhones running iOS 9, too.)

The most impressive of the iPad's newfound ability to multitask will be a picture-in-picture capability: Federighi watched a streaming video from WatchESPN, but was able to shrink it down into a resizable, movable window so that he could compose email or work in other apps.

Under the Hood: Smaller Size, Longer Battery Life

Not all the enhancements in iOS 9 will be ones that you'll spot right away. As with the forthcoming OS X El Capitan update, Apple is putting a lot of effort into behind-the-scenes improvements. iOS 9 will feature two-factor authentication for iCloud as well an enhanced update to the over-the-air update feature that reduces the amount of available space you'll need to upgrade to the new iOS to 1.3GB. You needed 4.6GB to install iOS 8 on your device.

The most welcome under-the-hood change for most iOS users, though, will be improved battery life. Apple is promising an additional hour of use when you install iOS 9 on your existing hardware. iOS 9 is taking a page out of Apple Watch's power-conservation book with a low-power mode, which will give your phone another three hours of battery life, presumably by disabling some of the more power-hungry features until you can get a charge.

How to Get iOS 9

Developers will already be able to get their hands on a beta of the new mobile OS. And normally, you'd have to wait until the fall for the full iOS update to try out these new features. But for the first time ever, Apple will put out a public beta of an iOS update; look for that to arrive in July.

When the final version of iOS 9 arrives this fall, it will be a free release. iOS 9 will run on the same devices that iOS 8 supports -- an iPad 2 or later, an iPhone 4S or later and a fifth-generation iPod touch.

Philip Michaels is a senior editor at Tom's Guide. Follow him at @PhilipMichaels. Follow Tom's Guide at @tomsguide, on Facebook and on Google+.